Harbor cruises, mountain hikes, an iconic Ferris wheel, and a thriving culinary scene: This is just a snapshot of what Seattle, Washington, has to offer. The biggest city in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is a tech-forward destination with a futuristic vibe. It also serves as a great home base for several nearby day trips. You’ll want to try to extend your trip as long as possible in this Washington State metropolis—your itinerary begs you!
Nicknamed the Emerald City for its densely forested areas and sprawling green space, Seattle is a great destination for city-dwellers who also love the outdoors. Great urban parks lie around every corner, as well as sparkling waterfronts. (Seattle is surrounded by water on all sides, after all!)
Need some inspiration to get your planning started? Plan your vacation in no time with this complete Seattle travel guide, full of tips and tricks for what to see & do, where to stay, and when to visit!
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What to see & do in Seattle
Pike Place Market
If you only have one day in Seattle, you’d be sorry not to spend at least part of it at Pike Place Market. (Especially if that day happens to be a rainy one!)
Nine acres large, Pike Place Market takes the notion of a “farmer’s market” to a whole new level. Here, you can browse antiques, artisan handiwork, delectable cheeses, and, well, just about everything else you can think of!
No matter your interests, discovering Pike Place Market is one of the most popular things to do in Seattle. Sift through the myriad of food stalls for some fresh produce to bring back to your vacation rental. Blow your vacation budget on a shopping spree in its antiques and collectibles shops. Settle down at a dockside restaurant or sip local beer at one of Seattle’s most popular craft breweries.
Coffee lovers, let’s not forget: The original Starbucks location is also right next to Pike Place Market. Grab yourself a venti of your favorite indulgent java boost and sip it down while you explore over 500 vendor stalls.
For big Starbucks fans, it’s also worth the walk to the Pike/Pine Corridor to check out the Starbucks Reserve Roastery. Here, you’ll get to experience the roasting process while tasting freshly roasted beans from all around the world.
Since 1962, the Space Needle has been the signature of the Seattle skyline. Located just outside of the downtown core in the Seattle Center complex, it’s also become one of the top tourist attractions in the city, drawing in millions each year.
If you have the time, it’s worth scaling the building (a fancy way of saying take an elevator ride!) to the Space Needle’s Observation Deck. Perched 520 feet above the city streets, the Space Needle offers some of Seattle’s most scenic views. Don’t forget your camera: This is a snapshot that’ll make all your friends back home overcome with wanderlust!
Looking for another great vantage point to take in the city’s horizon line? Head to Kerry Park. Though the views of the Space Needle are unparalleled, there’s one thing missing: the Space Needle itself!
From Kerry Park, you’ll be able to get a fantastic view of the Seattle Skyline, with its most famous building front and center, and Mt. Rainier in the opposite direction.
For those traveling with little ones, you may be interested to know that Kerry Park is home to one of Seattle’s most beloved playgrounds. This attraction promises an afternoon of fun for kids and parents alike.
Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)
Calling all Kool-Kats! The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) is the place to be if you want to explore the world of television, music, and popular media. Just next to the Space Needle in the Uptown (Lower Queen Anne) neighborhood, this gem is not to be missed. In fact, if you’re only going to visit one Seattle museum on your vacation, you should make it this one.
Throughout the interactive exhibits at the Museum of Pop Culture, formerly the Experience Music Project, you’ll get inside the private lives of some of rock & roll’s greatest legends and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of horror films.
Ready for your big debut? You can even perform live (in front of a virtual audience, of course!) and see if you’ve got the chop to live the fast-paced lifestyle of the rich and famous.
Were you a Sleepless in Seattle fan? If so, Alki Beach might look awfully familiar to you. Blockbuster cameos aside, this beach in West Seattle is the perfect place to catch some rays and unwind.
From exploring seawalls and lighthouses to eating fresh seafood and going for a dip, there are endless ways to have fun at Alki Beach. Just bring a towel and an umbrella, and you’ll be set for an afternoon of beach-bum-style entertainment.
Just 15 minutes from the city center, Alki Beach is one of the best day trips from Seattle—and the journey is super quick. Stay all day, or be back in time for dinner uptown—the choice is yours.
Seeking out some of Seattle’s famed green spaces? Venture up to beautiful Volunteer Park. Set over 40 acres in the hip Capitol Hill neighborhood, this popular urban park bursts with nature, featuring massive old-growth redwoods and wildflowers.
After you’ve grabbed some fresh air, climb up the Water Tower Observation Deck for incredible views of the Space Needle. For a more “grounded” experience, check out the blooms at the Volunteer Park Conservatory or browse the eclectic collections at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, both located within the grounds of Volunteer Park.
Golden Gardens Park
Looking to soak up more of Seattle’s seaside charms? Head north of the city center to the Ballard neighborhood to bask in the coastal wilderness of Golden Gardens Park. Despite its name, visitors won’t find any botanical gardens in this popular park. Instead, travelers can expect plenty of outdoor adventure, from hiking trails to a fishing pier with spectacular sunset views.
Lace up your hiking shoes to tackle the several miles of nature trails at Golden Gardens Park, including the trailhead for the Burke-Gilman Trail. If you’re visiting in summer, the park is even home to one of the most popular beaches in Seattle. Bring along a swimsuit and cool off in the Puget Sound waves.
Need more proof of Seattle’s Emerald City moniker? Carve out time to explore Discovery Park. Located on 534 acres in the Magnolia neighborhood, this vast park mixes everything from lush forests and rolling meadows to snaking streams and beautiful beaches.
Besides hiking, mountain biking, and beach combing, nature lovers can visit the Discovery Park Environmental Learning Center to learn more about the park’s diverse fauna and flora. Art lovers visiting Discovery Park should also try to pop into the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center to marvel at its striking Native American art.
Into creepy street art? Venture up to Troll’s Knoll Park in the quirky Fremont neighborhood to say hi to its intimidating gatekeeper: the Fremont Troll. Lurking under the Aurora Bridge, the award-winning 18-foot-high car-crushing sculpture has become one of the city’s most sought-after landmarks and a must-see if you’re creeping outside of the city center.
Charge up your camera and be sure to grab an Instagram-worthy shot of this bruiser as he crushes a full-size Volkswagen Beetle with his bare hands. After you’ve admired the street art, shake out the jitters with a casual walk around the leafy Troll’s Knoll Park.
Where to stay
There are so many excellent choices for where to stay in Seattle. With the city’s size, it can often be challenging to decide which one is right for you and your travel possé.
Thankfully, we’ve sifted through all the possibilities and have a few recommendations for neighborhoods/areas that will tickle your fancy, no matter what kind of traveler you are:
If you need to be in the center of all the action, Downtown Seattle is the best place to be. Especially well suited to first-time visitors to Emerald City, this neighborhood will put you just minutes away from the best shopping centers, diners, and bucket-list attractions.
As you’d expect with the centrality, hotel prices in Downtown Seattle tend to be a little higher than in other areas of the city.
For the entertainment seeker, a stay in Belltown would be an excellent option. Buzzing with live music venues, bars, clubs, and theatres, this former industrial district is one heck of a good time these days.
Accommodation costs in Belltown sit at the higher end of the scale. But if you’re looking to be wooed by the heartbeat of Seattle’s nightlife, look no further.
It won’t take long for history buffs to fall in love with this charming 18th-century neighborhood. Of course, there’s been some upgrading over the years, but you’ll still find plenty of historic landmarks and Romanesque Revival architecture to adore around Pioneer Square.
The area also butts up against the eclectic Seattle Chinatown-International District, where you’ll get to indulge in some of the city’s finest Asian cuisine. If you’re planning to treat yourself on this vacation, Pioneer Square is also home to some of Seattle’s top luxury hotels.
If you’re traveling with kids, this Belltown-adjacent neighborhood should be at the top of your list. It’s close to oodles of family-friendly attractions, mostly in the massive Seattle Center complex, home to the Space Needle.
Accommodations in Queen Anne come at a comfortable, mid-range price point. Most of the area’s best options ring around the Seattle Center.
South Lake Union
If you’re traveling to Seattle on business, set your sights on South Lake Union. The neighborhood, just north of downtown, is home to many of the city’s tech giants, including Amazon and Google. Even with its business-first agenda, South Lake Union is also a surprisingly happenin’ area, with plenty of cool cafes, restaurants, and bars.
The accommodation selection in South Lake Union is good, too. You’ll find plenty of excellent mid-range and luxury hotels at prices a tad better than in the downtown core.
When to visit
The best time to visit Seattle, WA, is from September to October, when the peak season ends. This way, you can take advantage of better deals and quieter city streets without worrying about the biting air of winter.
Spring is another great time to visit, as the cool, rainy days of winter give way to milder temperatures and sunnier skies. In spring, the cherry blossoms also make their appearance, blanketing parts of the city in delicate pink hues. Head to the University of Washington campus in the University District to see one of the Pacific Northwest’s finest displays!
In addition to being known as the “Emerald City,” Seattle has also been dubbed “Rain City” because, yep, it rains pretty often here! Regardless of when you’re visiting, be sure to check the weather ahead of time and pack your rainjacket and umbrella just in case.
Seattle is served by Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). Also known as Sea-Tac, the airport lies about 4 miles south of downtown. SEA is a major hub for both Alaska Airlines and Delta Air Lines.
Seattle is well-connected by road to other cities in Washington State and the neighboring states of Oregon and Idaho, along with the province of British Columbia in Canada. Popular road routes and estimated driving times include:
- Tacoma, WA (35m)
- Vancouver, BC (2h27m)
- Portland, OR (2h40m)
- Spokane, WA (4h4m)
- Victoria, BC (4h39m)
- Coeur d’Alene, ID (4h41m)
Seattle has plenty of public transportation options to help you save time and money as you navigate the city streets. Link Light Rail, King Country Metro buses, and a monorail service are all available to get you where you need to go.
Even if you’d prefer to rent a vehicle or use a ride-sharing program to get from Point A to Point B, be sure to ride the Seattle Streetcar at least once—it’s an iconic part of the Seattle tourist experience. The ride will take you through some of the city’s best dining and shopping districts, as well as connect you with one of its top waterfront parks.
If you plan to rely on these transit systems to get around, be sure to opt for an ORCA card when purchasing your fare. $8 will score you an all-day pass, which you can use on any of the above modes of transport.